Female Foeticide Unabated in Jain Society, Save Before They Perish
By Dr. Sharda Jain
Bertrand Russell once said that "We have two kinds of moralities side by side one of which we preach but do not practice, and another which we practice but seldom preach." Our Hindu community is going through a similar crisis of morality.
Girls and women face inequity and inequality everywhere. But in our country they do not even get a fighting chance to lead a healthy and productive life. They are devalued as human beings from the day they are born. But what is worse, they are even denied the right to be born if their families do not wish them to be born. Truly enough, many families do not wish their womenfolk to deliver baby daughters.
As a responsible member of society, we know that gender discrimination is bad. We are aware that female foeticide cannot be accepted in civilized society. But yet we Jains have also become a part of this shameful and ignoble system. Some of us are in fact actively promote the son-obsession of this sick society of ours by knowing the sex of the unborn child and selectively aborting female foetuses.
Our indifference to this deep-rooted prevalence of gender discrimination has already cost our nation a lot. The record shows that what is called the sex ratio, or the number of females for a thousand males, fell to 927 according to the 1991 census, as compared to 972 per 1,000 in the 1961 census. 2001 census shows the sex ratio as 933, a marginal improvement. Bare figures eloquently tell us a ghastly and gory story of the mysterious disappearance of millions of women ( 40-50 million).
This alarming statistics becomes even more shocking when we realise that at the beginning of this century, in 1901 to be precise, the sex ratio was 1,072 women for every 1,000 men. What should sadden us even further is that in certain states the scenario is startling. In states like Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan the sex ratio has plummeted to around 850 women for every 1,000 men. In specific communities of Bihar and Rajasthan the ratio is a mere 600 females for 1,000 males.
The sex ratio of 933 to 1000 shown by the 2001 census in India is among the lowest in the whole world. The figures are not only lower than those of the developed countries, but are also way below those of Sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia.
Is not this abysmally low sex ratio a matter of shame for all of us? It indicates that the social malaise of female foeticide and infanticide is rampant in our country, even as we have entered a new millennium. The celebrated Nobel laureate and economist Dr. Amartya Sen has estimated that, even in 1990, 100 million fewer women were alive than were projected by demographic studies.
It is common knowledge that foetal sexing is widely done in India, particularly in the Hindi-speaking belt, comprising Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra. Determination of the sex of the foetus is done even in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Kerala, with the highest literacy rate of 92 per cent in the country, has been partly spared from this growing menace. But nobody can deny its presence there too.
It is an interesting sidelight that while there is a preference for a male child in Muslim and Christian families as well, rarely do they go in for sex determination in pregnancy. It is said that many centuries ago Muslims also used to bury small girl child alive. Their Prophet worked hard to restore the prestige of girl child and this practice is now a history in that religion.
Apprehending misuse of sex determination tests, Indian parliament had passed a law forbidding pre-natal diagnosis for determining the sex of the unborn child. But effective implementation of this law is woefully wanting.
It is a welcome step that the state governments of Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana and Punjab have banned sex determination tests. However, technologically advanced tests like a sophisticated transvaginal ultrasound allow a trained observer to easily determine whether the growing foetus in the womb is a male or a female at three months, thus making the law obsolete in itself.
A Bombay based study conducted in 1984 revealed that out of 8000 foetuses aborted in second trimester following sex determination tests, 7,999 were females. We doctors are well aware of surveys from various hospitals and private clinics show that nearly all the elective second trimester abortions are of female foetuses only.
It is interestingly true that in the first delivery, a girl child is accepted by most families. But from the second delivery onwards, a baby daughter is mostly frowned upon; or better still, if possible, the female foetus is aborted before birth. The third girl child in the mother's womb is definitely aborted. Thus female foeticide has become very common in day to day practice. There seems to be no easy solution to this rampant social evil.
Even among the privileged upper middle and upper classes, where the resources for comfortable upbringing are not a problem, the second girl child is aborted in nearly 20 per cent of the cases, and the third girl child in 80 per cent of the pregnancies.
A similar ethical issue, perhaps with graver implications, was faced by the people of China with the one child family norm. But even in China, in spite of the pronounced preference for the male child, they could eliminate it to a large extent with government support.
Jain community is making valuable contributions to the cause of promoting the great ideals and values cherished by Lord Mahavira and Mahatma Gandhi. As a spokes person of Jain Samaj, we are always against to female foeticide and infanticide. Then why Jain Samaj is in forefront of this crime??.
We wish you to join hands with Indian Medical Association and Social activists in working against sex determination and selective female foeticide in India . Jain saints can do a lot by creating social awareness and pressing Jain community in this fight against female foeticide. Their blessings and cooperation will help to carry on the great mission of spreading the message to save the unborn girl child.
*Dr. Sharda Jain is a Senior Practicing Gynecologist in Delhi and an activists against female foeticide.